Why The Joker Is The Perfect Villain | The Art Of Film

Why The Joker Is The Perfect Villain | The Art Of Film


Why are we all so obsessed with the Joker? [gunshot] Joker: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We are tonight’s entertainment. Narrator: There are, of course, several explanations for this. For one, he is one of the oldest villains in comic book history, his first appearance dating
all the way back in 1940, with “Batman” issue No. 1. But I think what really
propelled the character to fame was in its various incarnations
throughout history. From comics to television,
movies, video games, and animation, the Joker is probably one of the most readapted villains in history. And, understandably, the question of who did it best is an ongoing debate. But I think it’s an unfair question, considering that every
incarnation of the character, more specifically the four
different types of Joker we’ve seen throughout history, are all entirely different characters. But without even just one
of them, the Joker would not have evolved into the perfect
villain we know today. [evil laughing] Joker: Come, my comic cohorts in crime! Narrator: The Joker’s
initial appearance in comics was very different from
the Joker we know today. His appearance in “Batman” No. 1 portrayed him as a smart
and capable criminal driven primarily by greed, committing a series of murders
to steal precious jewels. Perhaps the most vital trait
that was first established was his penchant for theatricality, announcing his crime via radio
before they even happened. This would in time become a
trope that would be used again. Smylex model: Love that Joker. Narrator: And again. Joker: Every day he
doesn’t, people will die. Narrator: He was smart,
cunning, and ruthless. But despite it all, the Joker was still just another criminal, albeit with an unusual sense of humor. Several critics have viewed this Joker as a perfect example of
the trickster archetype, one of the many archetypes devised by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. In literature, these are characters who show high levels of intelligence, use their mind to play tricks, or disobey any established rules. Another great example of
this archetype is Loki from the Norse mythology and
subsequently the Marvel comics, who, like the Joker, treads a thin line between malicious violence
and harmless humor. When the “silver age” of
comics hit in the ’50s, DC began toning down
the evil side of Joker to market their books for children and to avoid strict censorship. The 1942 story “The Joker
Walks the Last Mile” became a turning point that transformed the unusual, menacing
serial killer into a joke. And Cesar Romero’s
portrayal of the character in the 1960s television series “Batman” only solidified this image,
depicting the character as an intelligent yet
mostly harmless prankster with an unusual set of gadgets. As the show’s popularity
waned, so did the Joker, until in 1973, the character made a return in an almost unrecognizable form. Harley Quinn: Presenting
that caliph of clowns, that mogul of mountebanks,
the one and only Joker! [evil laughing] Narrator: Under writer Dennis O’Neil, the “Batman” comics began taking
a darker and grittier turn, and with it, the villains. “Batman” No. 251 signified
the return of the Joker as a criminal and a serial killer. It was at this time that
Joker truly turned mad. O’Neil and the writers
who came after him began focusing on Joker’s
insanity, and with it came the creation of the
landmark Arkham Asylum. Joker was no longer scary because he was a ruthless criminal, but because he was an insane and unpredictable one. Writer Steve Englehart’s
arc “The Laughing Fish” was an iconic story that
exemplified this insanity, showing the Joker
poisoning the water supply to make the fish look like him so he could copyright
and profit off of them. The same story was also
adapted in the ’90s’ “Batman: The Animated Series,” expertly voiced by Mark Hamill, whose Joker was heavily inspired
by the Joker of the ’70s. It’s a ridiculous
premise, but nonetheless, the portrayal of the Joker
is absolutely terrifying. Joker: I think I’ll start
using my toxin on cattle! Joker Burgers! Ha, talk
about a happy meal. [laughing hysterically] Narrator: The era signified a huge shift in the characterization of the Joker, but the transformation
was far from complete. All of this changed with just one work that would revolutionize
the idea of the Joker for years to come: Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke.” [laughing maniacally] Published during the “dark age” of comics, when stories became even
darker and more mature to target adult audiences,
“The Killing Joke” was a revolutionary work for the character for a number of reasons. First, it established the idea that the Joker has no specific origin. Contrary to popular
belief, “The Killing Joke” does not tell a definitive
origin story for the Joker, but only a possible one
inspired by a story that was already told years ago in
“Detective Comics” No. 168. What is definitive is
Joker’s view on his past. Joker: Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice. Narrator: This turned the
Joker from an evil man to an idea, an embodiment of his belief. And with it, the Joker became more vocal about what he believes in,
such as his frightening observation that all it takes for someone to become like him is just… Joker: One bad day. That’s how far the world
is from where I am, just one bad day. Narrator: The second revolutionary aspect was in the novel’s interpretation of Joker’s relationship with Batman. Moore saw Batman and Joker as
a mirror image of each other, both creations of a
random and tragic event that led to an alternate identity and opposing views of the world. This meant that their fights
were no longer just physical, but really a philosophical one. “The Killing Joke” opened the
floodgate to other stories that began exploring the
Joker as a philosopher. It was also what heavily
inspired Jack Nicholson’s iconic portrayal of the character
in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” Joker: As you can see, I’m a lot happier. Narrator: His Joker was
really a combination of all the Jokers before him. The campiness of the ’60s,
the insanity of the ’70s, and the philosophical
implication of the modern era. This is perhaps why Nicholson’s
portrayal was so iconic, as it provided the most
comprehensive look at the character that has drastically
evolved over the years. Until 2008, when director
Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger proved
that Joker’s transformation was far from over. [sirens blaring] Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was quite unlike anything we’ve seen. There were characteristics that
clearly made him the Joker, like his pension for theatricality, the multiple origin stories,
and a macabre sense of humor. Joker: I don’t wanna kill you. Narrator: But if
Nicholson’s Joker was more of a performance artist,
Ledger’s was that of a terrorist who exploited the modern fear of political and philosophical extremism
in the post-9/11 America. He was an anarchist who
not only refused to follow the established order, but
actively seeked to destroy it, introducing chaos to
the political landscape of Gotham as its… Joker: I’m an agent of chaos. Narrator: Nolan also provided
a specific philosophy to ground the character: nihilism. A philosophical belief that denies all meaningful values in life. One critic compared the Joker
to what Friedrich Nietzsche ironically called Übermensch, or Superman, a being that independently
decides on what’s right or wrong and asserts their own
belief into the world. Joker: It’s not about money;
it’s about sending a message. Narrator: Others also noticed
that this interpretation of the Batman and the
Joker’s relationship mirrored the Nietzschean philosophy of
the master and slave morality, Joker being the master
morality that creates and defines its own rules
without the approval of others and considers what
benefits them to be good, while Batman serving as the slave morality that is bound by existing laws and distinguishes right from wrong, the two in constant battle
for what each finds just. Ledger’s Joker was scary,
because, like “The Killing Joke,” it embodied an idea of chaos
and anarchy that couldn’t be… Alfred Pennyworth:
Bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Narrator: An entity that Batman
can’t just win physically. Joker’s transformation is an ongoing one. The most recent adaptation,
by Joaquin Phoenix, seems to be more political, representing him as a Marxist figure. And in recent comics,
Scott Snyder portrayed the Joker as an almost demonic figure, an evil as old as the
city of Gotham itself. And perhaps this is why we’re all so obsessed with the Joker. It’s a character that constantly changes and evolves to reflect our various fears. To borrow the mind of Nietzsche, it’s not the abyss you’re
staring into that scares you, but the abyss staring back, with a big, clown-like smile. Joker: See, madness, as
you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push. [Joker laughing maniacally]

local_offerevent_note October 11, 2019

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